President Obama relieved Gen. Stanley McChrystal of his command of the war in Afghanistan Wednesday because of insubordinate remarks by him and his aides in a Rolling Stone article published earlier this week.
“I accepted General Stanley McChrstal’s resignation,” Obama said to reporters in the Rose Garden. “I did so with considerable regret, but also with certainty that it is the right thing for our mission in Afghanistan, for our military and for our country.”
“It was a difficult decision,” Obama said. “It saddens me to lose the services of a soldier who I’ve come to respect and admire.”
The president is replacing McChrystal with Gen. David Petraeus. Petraeus is currently commander of U.S. Central Command but was the top general in Iraq under President George W. Bush and is without question the most well known and most well respected U.S. military officer. He is also one of the fathers of the counter insurgency strategy that is being executed in Afghanistan.
Placing Petraeus in the top position in Afghanistan “will allow us to maintain the momentum in leadership that we need to succeed,” Obama said.
Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin, Michigan Democrat, said he would hold a confirmation hearing for Petraeus no later than next Tuesday. The nomination is expected to sail through.
Obama made his announcement flanked by Petraeus, Vice President Joe Biden, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, and Adm. Michael Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
Obama said that he did not make the decision out of any sense of “personal insult” and that McChrystal has “earned a reputation as one of our nation’s finest soldiers.”
“All Americans should be grateful for General McChrystal’s remarkable career in uniform. But war is bigger than any one man or woman, whether a private, a general or a president,” Obama said. “The conduct represented in the recently published article does not meet the standard that should be set by a commanding general.”
Late in the day, Obama called British Prime Minister David Cameron, and the two leaders agreed to put in place British Lieutenant General Nick Parker as acting Commander of NATO’s International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan, until Petraeus is confirmed by the Senate.
Republican lawmakers responded with approval.
“I have great respect for General McChrystal and the job he’s done in Afghanistan and elsewhere in service of our country, but I respect the decision of our Commander-in-Chief,” said House Minority Leader John Boehner, Ohio Republican.
Boehner called Petraeus “the right person to take over this command.”
“The nation is fortunate this American patriot is ready to answer the President’s call to take over this tough assignment in Afghanistan,” said Sen. Lamar Alexander, Tennessee Republican and chairman of the Senate Republican Conference.
Peter Wehner, a former Bush administration official who has been one of Obama’s toughest critics in recent weeks, called Obama’s choice “a brilliant stroke.”
“He gets all of the benefit of relieving General McChrystal — a patriot and a hero who had a terrible lapse in judgment — and none of the drawbacks. Obama is replacing an outstanding general with one of the best in our history,” Wehner wrote.
Even before Obama announced McChrystal’s fate, top former Defense and State Department officials from the Bush administration had said general should be relieved of command.
“After this I don’t see how he could have stayed on, frankly,” said Eric Edelman, the number three official at the Pentagon from 2005 to 2009, in an interview.
“This is a real tragedy because Stan McChrystal is an incredibly capable officer who is a real hero in my book for what he did in Iraq and Afghanistan as the [Joint Special Operations Command] commander,” Edelman said. “He’s one of the more capable officers I knew during my time at the Pentagon.”
But Edelman, whose technical title was undersecretary of defense for policy, said that the Rolling Stone article that exploded into the news cycle Tuesday morning “suggests that a command climate had been created that allowed people around the general, without him correcting them, to say in front of — I’m sorry to say — a journalist things that were disrespectful of a civilian chain of command.”
“And whatever they might think, that’s not something they’re supposed to do,” he said.
“Suggesting that the President of the United States is intimidated by his military officers, that he wasn’t ready to be the commander, the suggestions that come directly from Stan in the article are that he was measuring the president and found him wanting,” Edelman said. “That may not be wrong. But it’s intolerable for a military commander who serves ultimately at the pleasure of the president and commander of chief … to let that become part of the public record.”
In Wednesday morning’s Wall Street Journal, a former top adviser to Bush’s Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice also argued that McChrystal should be fired.
“It is intolerable for officers to publicly criticize or mock senior political figures, including the vice president or the ambassador (who is, after all, the president’s personal representative to a foreign government),” wrote Eliot Cohen, now a professor at Johns Hopskins School of Advanced International Studies.
“It is intolerable for them to publicly ridicule allies. And quite apart from his own indiscretions, it is the job of a commanding general to set a tone that makes such behavior unacceptable on the part of his subordinates,” Cohen wrote.